Pre-covid challenges are now turning into opportunities for many businesses to master efficiencies, shift practices and engage their front-line employees in creative thinking and problem solving at a level they have not engaged in before.
Through a Leadership Perspective…
As much as the last couple years have been challenging for many, and in some cases tragic, we have also been hearing amazing stories from businesses who have shifted quickly, scrambled a lot and sought unique ways to contribute and thrive.
Initially we saw leaders trying to be ‘over-responsible’ for their teams.
“I need to look after them.” said one leader, “I don’t want to add more stress to their already stressful lives,” said another.
“I’m afraid to ask them to do more or to take on a new challenge for fear I’ll burn them out,” said yet another.
The intention of these leaders was really positive, to look after their people.However when we turned that around and challenged them to think about the opportunities that now existed for their teams, we started to have different conversations.
Leaders worried about overburdening their teams led to the question, “Have you asked that person if they are too stressed or over-burdened or feeling burnt out?”
In most cases the answer was “No, I just assume they must be.”
Engaging your Team to Drive for Results
When you make assumptions on behalf of your employees without engaging them, you are actually taking away opportunities for them to really shine, to contribute, to be part of creating value to the organization. The saying ‘two heads are better than one’ has never been more true!
As scientists from all over the world are working day and night, collaborating with each other on unprecedented levels to try to come up with solutions to the current pandemic, most people in organizations also want to be part of the solution. They want to be an active player in creating possibilities for doing things different, and perhaps better.
“Great things in business are never done by one person”
– Steve Jobs
This is what happened at AstraZeneca when they turned to their employees for innovation and support… “Over the course of three weeks, 23,000 ideas (yep, you read that right!), comments and likes were contributed from employees in 70 countries, many of which will go on to influence what AstraZeneca looks like in years to come.
Collaboration and crowdsourcing are now very much part of AstraZeneca’s DNA, with sustainable crowdsourcing campaigns remaining on ongoing focus.”
One small manufacturing firm (of live product) had front line employees segregated into specific areas and roles and were working to get their supervisors to focus on cross training. With the mandate for people who are not feeling well to stay home, they were struggling with how to get the work down when sections on the plant only had 1 person show up in an area that usually had 3 or 4.
The leaders put this challenge out to the front-line employees. The employees came up with the idea to have a ‘physical distance’ huddle each morning with whoever shows up for work that day. At this point they identified and divvied up people to ensure all areas of the plant get the attention it needs.
A bonus result of this was not only was the work getting done, but there was also increased engagement and camaraderie, with decreased blame and finger-pointing among the teams.
Another business that delivers product has been working for years to get its customer service team to be proactive with customers in order to create delivery efficiencies that impact production efficiencies which then impacts many other parts of the business.
The idea was, let’s visit the business less often with more product each time, if the customer has the storage space.
What the supervisor used to hear from her team was, “…but the customer has always done it like this so I don’t want to ask them to change.”
Suddenly, what seemed impossible to achieve yesterday, is an exciting challenge to conquer today. The customer service team is now focused on the well-being of the customer and as a result is arranging shipments to minimize contact for the customer.The same passionate desire to serve their customers has not changed, yet how they offer the service has.
5 Ways to Engage and Challenge Your Team
1. Encourage your teams innovation
Let them know what needs to be done, why and by when and then get them involved in brainstorming as many solutions as possible, the crazier the better. For example…
- 6-3-5 method: Six people sit around a table (virtually of course) and write down three ideas. They pass (send) their stack of ideas to the person on their right, who builds on them. This passing is done five times, until everyone has had the chance to build on each of the ideas. Afterward, the group gets to review the ideas generated to see what might be doable
Another great exercise, ask everyone to do some research and come to the next team meeting and share what others are doing in your industry, or another totally different industry, that are innovative or outside the box. This may generate some new opportunities for your team or business.
It is important that team members are aware of what is expected of them, and are able to prepare accordingly.There are many more ideas here.
2. Let Relationships lead the Task, not be ‘instead of’ the task
Strong leaders show the team they care and are clear about what successful performance looks like. Show your team what you want from them by making yourself an example, and thoroughly setting expectations. People also do not want to be ‘let off the hook’, that just devalues them. Give them the opportunity to prove themselves to you, and do your best to set them up on the right path.
Some of your team members may already be feeling guilty about their ability to function at their highest level right now (I’m home with my small children trying to make like I am putting in my 8 hours a day just the same as before!) . In this case…
- Everyone has different challenges that are impacting their ability to be productive, have the 1:1 conversations and gain commitment on ‘what’s possible’ for that person and what additional support they might need from you or other team members to accomplish their goals.
3. Model Transparency
- Invite conversation about what is out of our control vs. what is in our control as a company, and as individuals.
- Letting people vent can clear them for what is possible. We call it the ‘Vent AND THEN’ method…vent, and then help people focus on what they can control. This increases their sense of safety and security and can put them in a ‘growth mindset’.
Encouraging meetings to flow like a conversation – instead of an interview – allows individuals to open up and communicate what they are really thinking.
There are some great activities in this article to try individually and with your team, have some fun with them.
4. Create some team-based goals
With so many people working from home there can be productivity challenges, social challenges, loneliness and a feeling of being disconnected. This is often seen during virtual meetings as individuals staying in the background and not contributing to group discussions due to unfamiliarity of the new environment and relationships that accompany it.
- Team-based goals ramps up the collective and individual accountability and connection to each other and the team/org goals. “I don’t want to let my team down.” and “I’m struggling and am afraid to ask for help.” are common phrases right now.
- By focusing on sharing the workload as a team you are taking away the ‘your job vs. my job’ or ‘I’m doing more work than him’ and uniting people in a common purpose.
Here’s an exercise to try:
- Have everyone share the top 3 things they are really good at and can help others with and the 1 thing they struggle with and can use help from others.
- As a collective then people can lean on each other, learn from each other and help each other. Feeling comfortable sharing ideas with those around you will push you to increase engagement.
- Optional: Have a prize for the person who collaborates with the most people over a 1, 2, or 3 week period.
5. Celebrate the wins and recognize people’s contribution
People need to have fun, there needs to be some levity in life no matter what is going on. Fun and happiness are good for the immune system and for people’s mental health.
Here are examples of what leaders are currently doing and telling us about:
- One leader had a pizza delivered to everyone’s home at the same time and had an online pizza party to celebrate a team win.
- One leader is sending out a weekly personal email to share what they appreciate about that person’s skills, contribution, etc.
- Another leader is having late afternoon Friday ‘virtual pub crawls’ (the pub crawl is hanging out in different spaces in his house and on his property) where the rule is that people can only share their ‘wins of the week’, personally and professionally.
What are the possibilities that you are generating with your team? How are you challenging yourself and them to get creative, blow out the box you were in and increase engagement in winning as a team?
Download our full Creating Possibility Guide here: